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Syndication and the New Metrics

Marketers and their agencies have always tailored their media planning and execution to the needs of individual brands. But the concept of a “one-size-fits-all” measurement system for viewership may no longer apply. Advertisers may now choose their measurement metrics.

This year, advertisers negotiated on Nielsen’s “live” ratings. In 2007, some may be more comfortable with commercial “live+7” ratings as they look at return on investment over a longer term. Others, requiring more-immediate results, may opt to evaluate commercial audience using a “live+same day” criterion.

But regardless of the metric, syndication has a strong story to tell.

Looking at the TiVo data compiled by Nielsen from October 2005 through April 2006, the story is consistent: Eight out of 10 TiVo households watch syndicated programs “live.” This is much higher than prime network TV, where only half of households watch “live.”

Let’s suppose we place one announcement in every telecast in the month of May 2006 and focus on the adult 18-49 audience, using live+7 program ratings as a base.

According to Nielsen’s DVR data, the results parallel TiVo use: 83% of DVR viewers watched syndicated programs “live.” In primetime, 55% of DVR viewers watched programs live. No wonder the networks are ready to embrace the new commercial-ratings metric.

With this new metric, the percentage of DVR viewers who watch programs “live” rises from 55% to 68% on the commercial live+7. Syndication does even better, increasing from 83% for live ratings to 92% for commercial live+7. In simple terms, so many people watch syndicated programs live that a commercial in a syndicated show is less likely to be skipped.

Genres like syndication’s entertainment-news programs and sitcom reruns have even higher retention: 96%. Of concern for the broadcast networks is that, on commercial live+7, drama-programming retention drops to 64%. That could be a problem because dramas comprise more than half of this fall’s network primetime schedule.

With live+same day ratings during commercials, syndication retains 87% versus networks’ 60%, a 45% advantage for syndication.

In short, our analysis highlights two syndication benefits: More syndication viewers watch programming live, and syndication retains more viewers during commercial breaks.

The one “perfect” metric? Whatever is the best choice for the brand. What’s most important as we go through this change is for the dialogue to continue and for all of us to persist in aggressively looking for better solutions.